BY MARIA LOVELLA NACES
PARTICIPANT, ACTIVE CITIZENS MINDANAO
The air-conditioned waiting room was getting too cold for me. I was in queue to give my letter and talk to this local leader to ask support for our social enterprise (SE). When I called for the appointment earlier that day, the assistant said he would be available by 14.00. I arrived on time but the local leader was still meeting some people. I waited. I sat there, wishing I brought my thermal jacket. It was too cold. I checked my watch for the nth time, it was 16.30 and their meeting was not yet over. I decided not to leave. After few more minutes later, my name was called and I went inside his office. He looked like he wasn’t pleased. He didn’t offer me a seat, so I remained on my toes. I showed him my letter, delivered my pitch and elaborated on our plans for a possible collaboration with their office. He looked at me suspiciously. Unlike people from other government offices I approached, he did not understand social enterprise and bluntly told me that ‘Basin gamiton rani nimo sila (beneficiaries) para sa imong kaugalingong kalambuan’, (‘Maybe you are just going to exploit these people (beneficiaries) for your own interest’). I did not know how to react. It was the first time I got this kind of response. I kept calm, thanked him and decided to leave. I left his office really down and disheartened. In a few hours I would board my plane off to Hong Kong for the Social Enterprise World Forum and the British Council International Study Visit. Still a bit down and bothered, I began thinking about what to expect in the forum. I was anxious on what could happen in that forum and study visit.
A few hours after arriving in Hong Kong, we gathered at the British Council office. There, I met people from other countries. I shared what we do with our social enterprise and I was astonished by their positive response. In contrast with what happened in the local leader’s office, these people were supportive and inspiring. I then decided not to let the local leader’s response bother me anymore. Instead, I told myself, I will immerse myself in this event, observe, listen and absorb as much knowledge as I could. Thankfully I did.
It began with witnessing the troubling life situations of the people to which they empathized and decided to act upon their desire to help.
The next day, we walked through the poverty-stricken streets of Hong Kong. We were at what they call “the other side” of Hong Kong, the places not frequented by tourists. Under this one bridge, I saw makeshift houses, like piles of dilapidated boxes where people reside in dire poverty. The tour guides talked about the social problem and how people would sometimes opt to end their lives rather than continue in that living condition. I listened intently and understood how several SEs were founded on these problems.
I got to know the stories of other social enterprise leaders while we were on tour and thought it admirable that they are sincerely trying to address social issues. I realized that these are broken-hearted people, and every social enterprise story began with a broken heart. It began with witnessing the troubling life situations of the people to which they empathized and decided to act upon their desire to help. Their brokenness turned their empathy into a social mission. For these social enterprises, coming up with a long term solution was a struggle filled with trials, disappointments and rejections. But they were still able to design long-term solutions in the hope of eradicating their identified social problems. They refused to stay dejected, refused to be cynical at the face of such situations, and I realized that the passion of the broken-hearted is boundless. While there, I heard incredible survivor stories of some social enterprises but the determination to do more cannot be diffused and it inspired me.